One Time in Band . . . A Drummer is Hazed to Death

Posted: November 23, 2011 by Kodi in NCAA, Other

Sadly a member of the Florida A&M Marching 100 died on Saturday

His death may be linked to a hazing incident that is being investigated

Which makes me wonder, have you seen Drumline?

We have all heard the ridiculous stories involving the “weirdos” that found themselves endlessly practicing for the school’s band. You could stroll into any high school in America and you are guaranteed to find certain cliques, the jocks, the pretty girls, the emos, the wanna-be thugs and of course the band geeks. The band kids were often scrutinized by every other group in high school but those kids didn’t know what they were missing out on because the band kids I actually gave a chance turned out to hardcore partiers and merry pranksters.

Everyone knows that the people we are in high school just blossoms when we reach college and a lot of these band members go on to seek a chair at whatever college they attend. Nick Cannon may be an ultimate douche bag but anyone who has seen the last 10 minutes of Drum Line knows what these band members are seeking in that shining moment. I don’t need to go in to how awesome the face-off was between Devin Miles (Cannon’s character) and the fictitious Atlanta A&T University against Morris Brown but a similar rivalry is held between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman.

There is a huge rivalry between the two MEAC members and they played a football game in Orlando, Florida. The Florida A&M marching band traveled with the team but at the end of the game Bethune-Cookman held a 26-16 lead. This article isn’t about any significant drumline throw-down but rather about the death of a A&M drummer. Robert Champion, 26, was a drum major for A&M who was found unresponsive Saturday night just a few hours after the completion of the football game.

The details are limited but witnesses claim to have seen Champion vomiting and complaining of being incapable of breathing before he collapsed. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said that they believed hazing was involved in this incident before 911 was called. “Any death that occurs as the result of hazing is a third degree felony” Demings explained “anyone who participates in such events can be criminally charged”.

The cause of death is inconclusive but the forensic coordinator Sheri Blanton said that there were more tests that had to be done. Authorities aren’t sure how Champion died and will not know for sure until the medical examiner gets the autopsy results back, which could take up to 10-12 weeks. Currently there have been no charges filed but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any in the future.

These band kids can get a little crazy and it seems that the hazing can get even more out of hand at certain historically black colleges. The seats in these marching bands are limited and cherished almost more than the football teams that they perform in front of and hazing isn’t something new. This isn’t A&M’s first scandal with hazing as a few years ago a band member suffered severe kidney damage because of a beating with a paddle.

In 1998 the Tallahassee police opened and subsequently closed an investigation looking into the incident. They had found that this person had been hit over 300 times with a particular paddle as part of initiation to the clarinet section. The cops didn’t do anything about it because they determined that the persons participation in the alleged hazing was voluntary. In 1989 8 members were charged with battery and jailed for holding a student against his own will and bashed his face with their elbows. That case was eventually dropped too because the police were ok with the discipline that the university took and felt no other charges were necessary.

They have also already removed 30 students from the band this semester alone because of these hazing incidents and there are currently 3 ongoing investigations. Florida A&M President James Ammons earned both his bachelor and master’s degree from FAMU and reiterated that he is “committed to making certain that we end this practice here at Florida A&M University”. This may be another case of too little too late; realistically he can only stop it from happening again in the future.

“I’m very disappointed that we are at this point in the life of this university and we are here in 2011 dealing with an issue that should have been long, long past on our campus” Ammons said with frustration on his face. He promised that he was going to create a task force to investigate just what types of traditions or hazing may be taking place and determine the level of severity. But if one member has died clearly these band customs are going too far and one death is already too many. Ammons promised that the school is going to cooperate with the Orange County authorities who are looking into Champion’s death.

Ammons went on to explain “I think we need to stop and give ourselves the opportunity to find out the facts, and until we do I just don’t think it’s appropriate to have the band performing and representing the university”. The President didn’t just suspend the Marching 100 marching band but also all bands and ensembles that operate under the university’s music department. The Marching 100 have a rich history performing at multiple Super Bowls and even went to Paris to represent the United States for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

Ammons made a move on Wednesday to remove the school’s band director after the death of Champion, a drum major from the school’s notorious marching band. The letter was marked “confidential” and explained that Julian White, a former FAMU drum major, would be dismissed effective December 22 and put on administrative leave immediately. White has led the 420 member band since 1998 replacing Dr. William P. Foster after his 52 years of service and while the university was under investigation for the previous discussed incident.

Some of the band member’s parents have been interviewed and Felicia Fabre was one of them. She said that her child had also been hazed but had mixed emotions about the firing of White. “I think that it goes further than just him. He had people working under him that need to be held just as responsible” Fabre told a reporter. Fabre’s son, Marcus, “told me he was mentally and verbally hazed” continuing “my son always stood up for himself. . . These students are very disrespectful towards one another”. In an email she explained “it’s not the band staff that does it, it’s the section leaders, upperclassmen, the students that they’ve chosen to be in leadership”.

Truthfully the University needs a fall guy and it just so happens that the person in charge of the band was that guy, it makes sense when you think about it. Compare this situation to Penn St, there was no way that they could have let Joe Paterno stay on as Head Coach but after they got rid of him many followed. I’m sure that the situation at FAMU will be similar and that White will not be the only person let go due to this student’s death.

Another parent, Berlinda Johnson, said that “any time I alerted him to an issue, Dr. White was always responsive, I do not think he had the support that he needed”. Her son, who she left unnamed due to fear of retribution, accused a section leader of hitting her son last summer and that she “reported maybe four to five incidents,” and that her son loves band “but this year, freshman year, was not a fun year for him”.

The pressure is on FAMU and even Governor Rick Scott has chimed in by sending a letter to Gerald Bailey, Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to join the investigation and “assure that the circumstances leading to Mr. Champion’s death become fully known, and that if there are individuals directly or indirectly responsible for this death, that they are appropriately brought to justice and held accountable”. Do you smell that? A Shit-storms a brewin’.

Hazing is a ritual that affects nearly every aspect of college extra-curricular activities but there are plenty of examples of kids going too far. A&M definitely will have a difficult road ahead of them but hopefully their future actions will ensure that no other student will lose their life. And to brighten your day I decided to attach the captivating sequence from Nick Cannon’s Drumline:


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